In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a dangerous rescue effort draws the ears and eyes of the entire country. A two-and-a-half-year-old girl has fallen down a mine shaft--the only sound is an astonished tiny intake of breath from Ursula as she goes down, like a penny into the slot of a bank, disappeared, gone. It is as if all hope for life on the planet is bound up in the rescue of this little girl, the first and only child of a young woman of Finnish extraction and her Chinese-American husband. One TV viewer following the action notes that the Wong family lives in a decrepit mobile home and wonders why all this time and money is being wasted on that half-breed trailer-trash kid.
In response, the novel takes a breathtaking leap back in time to visit Ursula's most remarkable ancestors: a third-century-B.C. Chinese alchemist; an orphaned playmate of a seventeenth-century Swedish queen; Professor Alabaster Wong, a Chautauqua troupe lecturer (on exotic Chinese topics) traveling the Midwest at the end of the nineteenth century; her great-great-grandfather Jake Maki, who died at twenty-nine in a Michigan iron mine cave-in; and others whose richness and history are contained in the induplicable DNA of just one person--little Ursula Wong.
Ursula's story echoes those of her ancestors, many of whom so narrowly escaped not being born that her very existence--like ours--comes to seem a miracle. Ambitious and accomplished, Ursula, Under is, most of all, wonderfully entertaining--a daring saga of culture, history, and heredity.
"[Hill] astounds with her ability to meld simply and beautifully told stories, stories with an air of fable about them." --The Washington Post Book World
"It's a divine view of a family tree... Ride along to the end of this merry, generous book." --Time Out New York
"Hill's stories lure-the characters are vital, clever, detailed, appealing; I wolfed the book down like a bowl of cookie dough." --The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Ursula, Under never ceases to surprise and compel. What a grand and daring book." --Brady Udall, author of The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint